When Enough is Enough | Harmonist


(Harmonist) – March 27th, 2023 |
by Harmonist staff

By Yamini Narayanan, Senior Lecturer in International and Community Development at Deakin University, originally published in Sustainable Development.

Artha, the pursuit of material wealth, worldly materials and experiences, has been long recognized, in both Indian and Western philosophical thought, as one of the fundamental driving motivations of human lives. In ancient India, artha was more commonly invested with an enterprising or an extroverted dimension, of attending ‘to the matter at hand’ (Scharfe, 2004) but post-Buddhist influences clarified the notion more specifically, ‘as “object” or “objective” of various actions, and artha acquired meanings of substantial and material content’ (Scharfe, 2004,p. 249). In Kautilya’s Arthashastras, one of the most authoritative treatises on artha, artha also refers to a range of political goals such as good statecraft and political duties, and an ‘object of commerce or agriculture’ (Scharfe,2004, p. 249), the pursuit of which is central to the process of settling down to the privileges and duties of a householder. As such, artha has two major aspects – good statecraft, and pursuit of personal wealth, and is as such ‘a secular, not religious category’ (Parel, 2008, p. 53).

The Arthashastras recognized that a healthy society and state require economic growth and political participation. Therefore, the state was deeply invested in the married life of the individual, for it was only the householder who was engaged in activities related to economic development of the state such as the production of food and goods, and paying taxes (Scharfe, 2004, p. 261). Wandering monks and saints, who are held in esteem in more ascetic Indic religions such as Jainism and Buddhism, are regarded with some impatience in Hinduism, unless they have devoted an earlier part of their lives to some form of economic labour (Scharfe, 2004, p. 261). Thus work, which forms the central means of barter within economics, assumes a higher implication in the value system of spiritual economics informed by artha. Spangler (1983) comments thus:

To work lies at the heart of being human. It is a gift itself, the gift of being productive, of honing our talents, of expressing our creativity, of enriching the whole of which we are also a part . . . in a physical economy, we seek work as necessary for survival; in a spiritual economy, work is necessary for growth [emphasis mine].

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